An enormous gap has opened between the all-volunteer U.S. military and the citizens of the country it serves, according to a new book by military analyst Andrew Bacevich, “Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country” (excerpt below).
Bacevich, a Boston University professor and retired Army colonel whose son Andrew Bacevich, Jr. was killed in Iraq in 2007, traces the separation to Vietnam, a war he served in.
Bacevich argues that the gap has created a nation that has an abiding appetite for war waged by an Army that’s not capable of achieving victory.
“As Americans forfeit personal direct responsibility for contributing to the country’s defense — abandoning the tradition of the citizen soldier — then the state gains ownership of the military,” Bacevich told Here & Now. “The army becomes Washington’s army, not our army. And Washington has demonstrated a penchant for using the army recklessly.”
He adds that as the number of people engaged in war gets smaller, the federal government contracts out to private companies, which don’t have to abide by the rules of waging war ethically.
“Military professionals provide something unique, special and necessary to the conduct of war,” Bacevich said. “Now you don’t need to do that. You can just sort of farm out these responsibilities to people who are looking to turn a buck.”
“To revive the tradition of the citizen soldier can become — maybe I’m being too optimistic here — but can become the vehicle, in a sense, for reviving a more robust sense of what it means to be a citizen,” Bacevich said.
By Andrew Bacevich
Chapter 1: People’s War
War is an unvarnished evil. Yet as with other evils—fires that clear out forest undergrowth, floods that replenish soil nutrients—war’s legacy can include elements that may partially compensate (or at least appear to compensate) for the havoc inflicted and incurred.
For the United States, the Civil War offered one such occasion. To preserve the Union and destroy slavery, Americans served and sacrificed without stint. The citizen-soldiers who responded to the charge contained in the “Battle Hymn of the Republic”—“As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free”—won a great victory. In doing so, they set the stage for the nation’s emergence in the latter part of the nineteenth century as the world’s preeminent economic power. Out of blood came muscle.
World War II proved to be a second such occasion for acquiring muscle, if not for other powers at least for the United States. Yet by 1941, in return for service and sacrifice, Americans expected rewards more tangible than the satisfaction of doing God’s will. Once again, citizen-soldiers would fight for freedom. Thanks to the New Deal, however, freedom meant something more than submission to market forces. It now implied some measure of reciprocity, with citizens guaranteed access to the minimum essentials of life.
In describing what was at stake in World War II, President Franklin D. Roosevelt called this “freedom from want.”1 Making freedom thus defined available to the average American was by now becoming the job of political authorities in Washington. So in their approach to justifying war against the Axis, Roosevelt and his lieutenants shrewdly emphasized a shimmering consumer-oriented vision of democratic purpose.
To a greater extent than any prior conflict, mobilizing for World War II became an indisputably communal undertaking, involving quite literally everyone. So, too, did the war’s actual conduct. As a result, the historian William O’Neill writes, the United States fought World War II as a “people’s war.” Rather than “uphold[ing] personal gratification as the be all and end all of life,” Americans demonstrated a hitherto hidden capacity for government-prescribed collective action.2 The appetite for personal gratification did not disappear. Yet at least for the duration Americans proved willing to curb it.
In this regard, the cultural moment was propitious. For a short time, the distance separating elite, middlebrow, and popular artistic expression seemed to collapse. Proletarian impulses released by the Great Depression persisted into the war years, infused now with a sense of hope that the promise of American life might indeed find fulfillment—and soon. Yearning and expectation gradually displaced the anger and despair that had characterized the 1930s. On symphony stages, this popular mood found expression in works like Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man (1942) and Appalachian Spring (1944). On Broadway, there was Oklahoma! (1943) by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. (“We know we belong to the land, and the land we belong to is grand!”) At the movies, Oscar-nominated films such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), Our Town (1940), The Grapes of Wrath (1940), and Sergeant York (1941) all mined the rich vein of populism. In photography these tendencies suffused the social realism of Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans. In painting, American regionalists such as Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry paid homage to ordinary workers while expressing nostalgia for small-town and rural America. In a war-specific context, there was the memorable work of the cartoonist Bill Mauldin, creator of the “dogface” soldiers Willie and Joe. Elitism had not disappeared from the American scene, but for a time it was thrown on the defensive.
“In a democracy,” Undersecretary of War Robert Patterson declared in 1944, “all citizens have equal rights and equal obligations.” A graduate of Harvard Law School, Patterson was himself a combat veteran of World War I. “When the nation is in peril,” he continued, “the obligation of saving it should be shared by all, not foisted on a small percentage.”3 With regard to obligations (if not rights), Patterson’s Axiom accurately described the Roosevelt administration’s approach to war. All would contribute to the cause. All would share in whatever burdens the war effort imposed. All (or mostly all) could expect to share in the benefits, the president himself promising “jobs for those who can work. Security for those who need it. The ending of special privilege for the few. The preservation of civil liberties for all.”4
At least as important was this unspoken caveat: although achieving victory would require shared sacrifice, the president would seek to limit the pain and suffering that Americans would actually endure. The price of defeating the Axis promised to be high. Yet FDR intended, wherever possible, to offload that price onto others, while claiming for the United States the lion’s share of any benefits. For some (but not too much) pain, enormous gain—that describes the essence of U.S. grand strategy.
To an astonishing degree, Roosevelt and his lieutenants made good on both elements of this formula.
When it came to raising an army, therefore, inclusiveness became a defining precept. Rather than relying on volunteers, the United States implemented a system of conscription similar to the one devised for World War I. The draft took black and white, rich and poor, the famous and the obscure, Ivy Leaguers and high school dropouts. In order to field a force that peaked at twelve million serving members, the armed services inducted just about anyone meeting their mental and physical prerequisites. The sons of leading politicians like President Roosevelt served, as did the sons of multimillionaires like Joseph P. Kennedy. Hollywood idols Douglas Fairbanks Jr., Henry Fonda, Clark Gable, Tyrone Power, and James Stewart found themselves in uniform. So, too, did A-list movie directors Frank Capra, John Ford, John Huston, George Stevens, and William Wyler; baseball stars Ted Williams, Joe DiMaggio, and Hank Greenberg; and boxing greats Joe Louis and Gene Tunney.
In other words, the United States waged World War II with a citizen army that reflected the reigning precepts of American democracy (not least of all in its adherence to Jim Crow practices). Never again would U.S. forces reflect comparable diversity. Never again would they demonstrate comparable levels of overall effectiveness.
Service exacted sacrifice. Patterson’s Axiom applied across the board. Among the four hundred thousand American lives claimed by World War II were nineteen players from the National Football League.5 Glenn Miller, America’s most popular bandleader, was killed while serving with the U.S. Army Air Forces. Harvard University contributed its share. Inscribed on one wall of the university’s Memorial Church are the names of 453 Harvard men who died in World War II—just 35 fewer than the total number of West Pointers lost.6 Harvard’s dead included four members of the university faculty and the nation’s commander in chief (class of 1904).
The citizen-army’s strengths and limitations as a fighting force reflected—and affirmed—the civil-military contract forged for the duration, the essence of which was a widely shared determination “to get the goddam thing over and get home,” the sooner the better.7 According to the novelist James Gould Cozzens, a World War II veteran, the average soldier lost little sleep contemplating the question “why we fight.” Only a single definition of purpose “carried or ever could carry any weight with him.”
His war aim was to get out as soon as possible and go home. This didn’t mean that he wouldn’t fight—on the contrary. Brought within fighting distance of the enemy, he saw well enough that until those people over there were all killed or frightened into quitting, he would never get home. He did not need to know about their bad acts and wicked principles. Compared to the offense they now committed . . . by shooting at him and keeping him here, any alleged atrocities of theirs, any evil schemes of their commanders, were mere trifles.8
Home signified homely satisfactions. “Your ordinary, plain, garden-variety GI Joe,” wrote Richard Polenberg in his popular history of the war, “was fighting for the smell of fried chicken, or a stack of Dinah Shore records on the phonograph, or the right to throw pop bottles at the umpire at Ebbets Field.”9 Or as the journalist James Wechsler put it, throughout World War II, “the American soldier—happily—always remained a civilian. His vision of the brave new world was hardly as luminous as that of editorial writers. He wanted merely security and peace and a chance to go back where he came from. . . . In a word, status quo ante, with trimmings.”10
Such mundane aspirations did not imply a grant of authority allowing Roosevelt to expend American lives with abandon. Indeed, for FDR to assume otherwise would have placed his bargain with the American people at risk. Fortunately, circumstances did not require that the president do so. More fortunately still, he and his advisers understood that.
The outcome of World War II turned, above all, on two factors: in Europe, the prowess and durability of the Red Army; in the Pacific, the weakness and vulnerability of the Japanese economy. To hit the perfect strategic sweet spot—winning big without losing too much—required the United States to exploit both of these factors. This Roosevelt ably succeeded in doing.
Success entailed making the most of America’s comparative advantage in the production of war-essential matériel. Whatever the category—coal, oil, steel, foodstuffs, or finished goods like ships, tanks, and aircraft—no other belligerent could match the United States in productive capacity. Moreover, the American “arsenal of democracy”—difficult to attack and impossible to conquer—lay beyond the effective reach of Axis forces.11 Not long after Pearl Harbor, the army chief of staff, General George C. Marshall, announced, “We are determined before the sun sets on this terrible struggle that our flag will be recognized throughout the world as a symbol of freedom on the one hand and of overwhelming power on the other.”12 Tapping that arsenal for all it was worth held the key to fulfilling Marshall’s vision, which was also Roosevelt’s.
The essential task was to expedite the conversion of U.S. economic might into Allied killing capacity. On that score, in the eyes of America’s senior war managers, Soviet fighting power represented an asset of incalculable value. In Washington, Winston Churchill’s speeches about the common heritage of the “English-speaking peoples,” however inspiring, mattered less than did the Red Army’s manifest ability to absorb and inflict punishment. “A democracy,” Marshall later remarked, “cannot fight a Seven Years War.”13 When it came to waging total war, totalitarian dictatorships did not labor under comparable limitations. The people of the Soviet Union would fight as long as their supreme leader, Joseph Stalin, obliged them to do so.
With France defeated and the British empire short of will and wherewithal, the president looked to the Red Army to destroy the mighty Wehrmacht. “The whole question of whether we win or lose the war depends on the Russians,” he told Treasury Secretary Henry Morgenthau in June 1942. That same year Admiral Ernest King, chief of naval operations, assured reporters in an off-the-record briefing that “Russia will do nine-tenths of the job of defeating Germany.”14
Getting the Russians to shoulder the burden of defeating America’s most dangerous adversary promised both to ensure support for the war effort on the home front and to position the United States to become victory’s principal beneficiary. “The American people will not countenance a long war of attrition,” the Pentagon’s Joint War Plans Committee had warned in 1943.15 A long war of attrition fought by the Soviet Union was altogether another matter, however. For Washington, providing Stalin with whatever the Soviet Union needed to stay in the fight (while easing any doubts the Soviet dictator might entertain about America’s commitment to the cause) constituted not only a strategic priority but also a domestic political imperative.
To appreciate the implications of this arrangement—the Soviets doing most of the fighting while drawing freely on the endless bounty of American farms and factories—consider casualty statistics. At just above four hundred thousand, U.S. military deaths for the period 1941–45 were hardly trivial. Yet compared to the losses suffered by the other major belligerents, the United States emerged from the war largely unscathed. Estimates of Soviet battle losses, for example, range between eleven and thirteen million.16 Add civilian deaths—ten million or more in the Soviet Union, a mere handful in the United States—and the disparity becomes that much greater. To ascribe this to the fortunes of war is to deny Roosevelt credit that is rightly his.
The U.S. approach to waging war against the Japanese empire offered a variation on the same theme. With opportunities for outsourcing that war less available (and less desired), the United States shouldered the principal responsibility for defeating a Japan that was as resource poor as the United States was resource rich. When it came to industrial capacity, Japan was a comparative pygmy, its economy approximately one-tenth as large as the American leviathan. In 1941, Japan accounted for 3.5 percent of global manufacturing output, the United States 32.5 percent. At the outset of hostilities, Japan was producing 5.8 million tons of steel and 53.7 million tons of coal annually. For the United States, the comparable figures were 28.8 million and 354.5 million.17 As the war progressed, this gap only widened. The submarines that decimated Japan’s merchant fleet and the bombers incinerating its cities brought the economy to its knees.
“In any week of her war with Germany between June 1941 and May 1945,” writes the historian H. P. Willmott, succinctly expressing the genius of U.S. grand strategy, “the Soviet Union lost more dead than the total American fatalities in the Pacific war.”18 Many factors account for that disproportion, but among them were calculated choices made by FDR and his principal advisers: give the Russians whatever they needed to kill and be killed fighting Germans; engage the Wehrmacht directly in large-scale ground combat only after it had been badly weakened; and fight the Japanese on terms that played to American advantages, expending matériel on a vast scale in order to husband lives.
“Our standard of living in peace,” General Marshall had declared in September 1939, “is in reality the criterion of our ability to kill and destroy in war,” adding that “present-day warfare is simply mass killing and mass destruction by means of machines resulting from mass production.”19 The unspoken corollary was this: the mass production of machines to wage war could enhance the American standard of living in the peace to follow. A preference for expending machines rather than men could—and did—produce strikingly positive effects on the home front.
Even today, the numbers remain startling. While a conflict of unprecedented scope and ferocity was devastating most of Eurasia, the United States enjoyed a sustained economic boom. Between 1939 and 1944, the nation’s gross domestic product grew by 52 percent in constant dollars. Manufacturing output trebled. Despite rationing—inconvenience packaged as deprivation—consumer spending actually increased.20
More remarkable still, the benefits of this suddenly restored prosperity were broadly distributed. To be sure, the rich became richer, with the wartime pretax income of the top quintile of earners increasing by 55.7 percent. Yet the nonrich also benefited and disproportionately so. Families in the lowest quintile saw their incomes grow by 111.5 percent, in the second lowest by 116 percent.21 Between 1939 and 1944, the share of wealth held by the richest 5 percent of Americans actually fell, from 23.7 percent to 16.8 percent.22 The war that exhausted other belligerents and left untold millions in want around the world found Americans becoming not only wealthier but also more equal.
Notably, all of this happened despite (or because of) increased taxation. Throughout the war, tax policy remained a contentious issue. Overall, however, Americans paid more, and more Americans paid. Between 1940 and 1942, the corporate tax rate went from 24 to 40 percent, with an additional proviso taxing “excess” profits at 95 percent. Tax rates on individual income became more progressive even as larger numbers of wage earners were included in the system. In 1940, approximately 7 percent of Americans paid federal income taxes; by 1944, that figure had mushroomed to 64 percent. No one proposed that wartime might offer a suitable occasion for cutting taxes.23
None of this is to imply that World War II was a “good war,” either on the fighting fronts or at home. If anything, the war stoked deep-seated prejudices and provided an outlet for modern-day pathologies. Race riots rocked major American cities. Bitter strikes paralyzed critical industries. Prostitution flourished. Unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases proliferated. Social dislocation produced increases in juvenile delinquency. To this day, the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans remains a deeply embarrassing stain on President Roosevelt’s record.
Yet if not good, Roosevelt’s war was surely successful. If the essential objective of statecraft is to increase relative power, thereby enhancing a nation-state’s ability to provide for the well-being of its citizens, then U.S. policy during World War II qualifies as nothing less than brilliant. Through cunning and foresight, he and his lieutenants secured for the United States a position of global preeminence while insulating the American people from the worst consequences of the worst war in history. If World War II did not deliver something for nothing, it did produce abundant rewards for much less than might have been expected.
Furthermore, the collaboration forged between government and governed yielded more than victory abroad. At home, it dramatically enhanced the standing of the former while reinvigorating the latter. The Great Depression had undermined the legitimacy of the American political system, prompting doubts about the viability of democratic capitalism. World War II restored that lost legitimacy with interest. As a people, Americans emerged from the war reassured that prosperity was indeed their birthright and eager to cash in on all that a fully restored American dream promised. Thanks to FDR’s masterly handling of strategy, those gains came at a decidedly affordable price. War waged by the people had produced battlefield success and much more besides.
Excerpted from the book BREACH OF TRUST by Andrew Bacevich. Copyright © 2013 by Andrew Bacevich. Reprinted with permission of American Empire Project.
ROBIN YOUNG, HOST:
Well, now let's bring in Andrew Bacevich, Boston University professor, retired Army colonel, Vietnam vet, who was an outspoken critic of the war in Iraq long before his son, an Army lieutenant, was killed in that war. Andrew's new book is a scathing critique of the new volunteer military, in which he says Americans give up any responsibility for war, handing it fully over to Washington, which happily accepts.
Bacevich says following Vietnam and the end of the draft, all it takes to invade a country is concurrence among a half-dozen people and a nod from the president, no need to get congressional assent, no need to consult the American people, who, he says, are not innocent in this.
Americans, he says, applaud troops at baseball games and convince themselves that qualifies as citizenship.
Professor Bacevich's new book is "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country." He joins us in the studio. Welcome back.
ANDREW BACEVICH: Thank you very much.
YOUNG: So here we have President Obama making this surprise pivot. He will ask Congress to vote. He said he heard the voices of Americans and their concern. You say what?
BACEVICH: Well, it certainly surprised me as much as it did everybody else, but I think that the president's being disingenuous when he says that he is responding to the people's concerns. I think the reality is that he backed himself into - he painted himself into a corner with his ill-advised comment about Syrian use of chemical weapons constituting some sort of red line.
So what the president's doing, I think, is basically saying to the Congress, why don't you share in the responsibility for this decision.
YOUNG: Which is one of the biggest criticisms of your book, which is that Americans by and large don't share in responsibility of any decision.
BACEVICH: Oh, let me be clear. I was surprised by what the president did, and I emphatically applaud it. The president, whether intentionally or not, has set an important precedent here.
YOUNG: Well, put aside the debate over whether or not the U.S. should respond, put that aside for a second. Just the idea of how the U.S. goes about enacting policy now - because you draw it all back to the U.S. military getting rid of the draft after Vietnam. Let's set the scene as you do. You open your book in Fenway Park, Fourth of July, 2011, the Red Sox announcer welcomes the family of a young U.S. sailor. Her name is Bridget Lydon(ph). She's serving on the USS Ronald Reagan supporting the war in Afghanistan.
Huge American flag on the Big Green Monster, that's the wall here at Fenway Park where the Red Sox play. Bridget appears on a video screen. She greets her family. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)
BRIDGET LYDON: I wish I could be there, but I want to wish you all a happy Fourth of July.
YOUNG: Well, and what happens then? She actually walks out from that door by the scoreboard, by the Green Monster, and her family runs across the field, and the Red Sox fans in the stands go wild applauding her. You say what?
BACEVICH: I think this is an example of what Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and martyr, famously called cheap grace, gestures that make ourselves feel good and kind of become an excuse to avoid grappling with important moral issues. This feel-good moment symbolizing an ostensible unity between people and military quickly passes and I think becomes an excuse not to appreciate the extent to which there is in fact a great gap between the military and society and that the testimonials of affection and support for the troops are, in very fundamental sense, dishonest and fraudulent.
YOUNG: What's the danger of that?
BACEVICH: As Americans forfeit personal, direct responsibility for contributing to the country's defense, abandoning the tradition of the citizen soldier, then the state gains ownership of the military. The army becomes Washington's army, not our army. And Washington has demonstrated a penchant for using the army recklessly.
If we were sitting here, and we could look back on the Iraq War and the Afghanistan War and see them as victory economically achieved, advancing the security interests and the well-being of our people, the Iraq and the Afghanistan people, I would be the first one to say that the professional military that we created after Vietnam is a great success. But that's not the case.
YOUNG: Let's talk about how it affects the military, how the military evolved when the draft was eliminated. It embraced technology, this idea of a fleeter force, also the embrace of women, gays, blacks. Isn't that evolution? You just kind of sort of hinted at your answer when you talked about how Iraq and Afghanistan went. But on the face of it, you would think, wow, that seems like a good idea, more egalitarian and relying more on technology and a fleeter force rather than boots on the ground.
BACEVICH: No question about it. This is an argument from our present vantage point. If we had had this conversation back in 1992, when I got out of the Army, and you asked me to evaluate the all-volunteer force, I myself at that point would have said, hey, it's working, meaning that the cultural divide between the military and society that was acutely apparent back in the Vietnam War was closed in the wake of the Vietnam War.
YOUNG: And by the way, when you say acutely apparent, you know, you had soldiers killing each other, I mean coupled with a war that many didn't understand the war in Vietnam. You had whites against blacks.
YOUNG: You had dopers against drinkers. You know...
BACEVICH: So that reform effort manifestly accomplished good things in the arena of culture. Now, you mentioned the word technology and the role of technology in warfare. Well, the generals after Vietnam, and in particular after Operation Desert Storm in 1991, I think quite foolishly came to believe that technology held the secret to future victories: victory is assured.
And it was this utopian expectation of what war could achieve that then helped lay the basis for thinking that a global war on terrorism after 9/11 would be a good idea. That judgment by the senior military leadership turned out to be wrong.
But here we are in 2013. We really ought to consider the possibility that maybe basic U.S. military policy is fundamentally flawed. I think the greatest defect is this disengagement of the people from the military.
YOUNG: And that the people, citizen soldiers, for instance, might be more likely to sound an alarm. We're going to hear what Andrew suggests to bring back some form of citizen soldier. His new book, "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country"; it's not published until September 10. We hear it's going to get reviewed by Rachel Maddow this Sunday in the New York Times, but you can get a sneak peek at hereandnow.org. We'll have more with Andrew in one minute, HERE AND NOW.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
YOUNG: It's HERE AND NOW, and we're back with our conversation with Andrew Bacevich, Boston University professor, retired Army colonel and Vietnam vet, his son, Army First Lieutenant Andrew Bacevich, Jr., killed in Iraq in 2007. And long before that, the father was scrutinizing the military.
In his new book, "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country," he says the gap between citizens and soldiers caused by ending the draft is bad for both, that citizens' voices are imperative to raise questions before war and on the battlefield.
And Andrew, pick up where we left: a professional Army relying on corporate contractors, which seemed like a good idea, but you write the Army might have saved money, but it lost self-sufficiency, that wars are longer now, not more efficient.
BACEVICH: The generals argued that we may be getting a little bit smaller, but we can actually do more because technology increases our capabilities. And there was this expectation that we would win, win quickly, win easily, win decisively. When victory turned out to be frankly beyond reach in Iraq and Afghanistan, how does Washington respond? It responds by opening the door to private defense contractors with, I think, very negative consequences, not least of all negative consequences for the military profession itself, which defines its reason for existing that military professionals provide something unique, special and necessary to the conduct of war.
Now, you don't need to do that. You can just sort of farm out these responsibilities to people are looking to turn a buck.
YOUNG: You dedicate your book to two soldiers, Captain William Reichert and Captain Theodore Westhusing, Reichert killed by his own men in Vietnam. We talked about how the citizen soldiers, you know, almost turned on themselves when a war wasn't going well, which, as horrible as that was, at least that was a, you know, an alarm, you know, being sent out.
But I want you to talk about Westhusing. We reported on this. He took his life in 2005 after trying to blow the whistle on his beloved Army's partnership with defense contractors, you write, an indelible stain, and he just couldn't live with it. You say his was a sacrificial act, his committing suicide, and attention must be paid by anyone concerned about the health of the military.
You know, here we have someone - you're not the only one who's said this, that he took his life because he just couldn't bear to see what this contract of the American military with contractors was doing to the Army. What more was it doing that he saw?
BACEVICH: It was corrupting the military. Colonel Westhusing, who I never met, was, I think, by all accounts, a remarkable man, a West Point graduate, graduated very high in his class, and chose to leave the field army and return to West Point to teach as part of the permanent faculty, got a Ph.D. in philosophy, where the subject of his dissertation was military honor.
So this is somebody for whom honor was central to his being, and he chose - he volunteered to leave West Point to go on a tour to Iraq, and perhaps tragically, or certainly ironically, instead of being sent to a U.S. combat unit, he was assigned to a job in which he was supposed to supervise one of these contracts.
And the contractor - at least the accusations were that the contractor was corrupt. And when this was brought to his attention, Westhusing felt personally responsible, personally stained and for whatever reason, we can't understand the reason, couldn't cope with that and took his own life.
I think this was - this should have been seen by the senior military leadership as the fire bell in the night, that there was something fundamentally wrong with the way we have organized our military, given the kinds of wars in which we have found ourselves.
Now, there's a choice here. The choice is don't go fight those wars. Let us not pursue Washington's vision of being able to somehow control the course of events in the Middle East by the adroit use of American military power. Or if indeed we are going to persist in trying to use force to have our way in the Middle East, then we need a different army. We need a bigger army. I think that's a fundamental choice that, frankly, people in Washington don't want to confront.
YOUNG: A couple things, Andrew Bacevich. Are you saying that if we restored the draft and it was a citizens' army, they would rise up sooner and not allow corrupt contractors, not allow foolish expectations of war? What are you saying that Iraq might not have happened if we had a citizens' army? They would have protested before it even started?
BACEVICH: My proposal, to be clear, is not to restore the draft, but to enact a program of national service. National service means all able-bodied young people owe a couple of years of service to the country. Some of them may choose to serve in the military. All the rest will serve in other capacities, you know, whether it's a renewed equivalent of the Civilian Conservation Corps, or whatever.
YOUNG: The AmeriCorps, yeah, AmeriCorps, yeah.
BACEVICH: So what would that do? To my mind, it would revive the concept of a citizen solder, and I think we would have the people once again more closely engaged in decisions as to where that army goes and what it is sent to do. And at worst, if we found ourselves in another Iraq war, we would then have a mechanism to expand the army. We could make the army bigger without having to turn things over to these defense contractors and all the negative baggage that comes with taking that approach to waging a war.
YOUNG: You say that it's not just about how we wage war, but how we live that changed when we got rid of a citizens' army. Let me read you - it's page 41, here: Apathy towards war is symptomatic of advancing civic decay, finding expression in apathy toward the blight of child poverty, homelessness, illegitimacy, eating disorders.
Shrugging off wars makes it that much easier for Americans - overweight, over-medicated and deeply in hoc - to shrug off the persistence of widespread hunger. You go on and on. You say we're not as good citizens.
BACEVICH: Well, I think that to revive the tradition of the citizen soldier can become - maybe I'm being too optimistic here - but can become the vehicle, in a sense, for reviving a more robust sense of what it means to be a citizen, and that we will become less selfish, less self-absorbed, and more concerned with the well-being of our neighbors and of the community more broadly.
YOUNG: Andrew Bacevich, one last question. You address the death of your own son in the war in Iraq just once, and it's kind of sideways. It's on page 135 here. You say after the war in Iraq, Americans might ponder the question of what the loss of several thousand soldiers there signifies. I have grappled with that question myself, not altogether successfully. That's it.
Was the death of your son underscoring all of this, or...
BACEVICH: Well, you know, this is not something that I prefer to talk about.
BACEVICH: But how can it not be? You know, for all of us, things happen in our lives that leave a permanent mark, and we are different as a consequence of that experience. And I'm sure that's the case with me.
YOUNG: Andrew Bacevich's new book is "Breach of Trust: How Americans Failed Their Soldiers and Their Country." It's published September 10th. Line up to get it. It's a terrific read. Andrew, thanks, as always.
BACEVICH: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
YOUNG: So, your thoughts: Only 1 percent of Americans serve. Andrew Bacevich says this disconnect also, you know, between Americans and the military, led to the economic collapse. George W. Bush told Americans go shopping. Go to Disneyland, instead of sacrificing, maybe paying a war tax, Americans were happy to do that. Do you have second thoughts about that or on any of this? Let us know at hereandnow.org. Latest news is next, HERE AND NOW. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
Jeremy Hobson joins Robin Young as co-host of Here & Now in its new 2-hour format, from WBUR and NPR.
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